Indian Express Stories of Strength

Facebook and The Indian Express bring you a series on those at the forefront of the fight against the pandemic. From healthcare workers to government officials to innovators — a look at their day at work, their struggles and challenges.

Youth with risky Covid-19 job has bigger fears to tackle

“While stepping out of home, who is not scared of death? We are doing the job risking our lives and the public continues to roam around irresponsibly. This has to stop…”

July 1, 2020 9:30:05 pm

HYDERABAD: “My only concern is that nothing should happen to my father because of me.”

There is a reason H Santosh Suryavanshi fears this eventuality: The 29-year-old is a lab technician at Hyderabad’s Gandhi General Hospital, Telangana’s nodal centre for treating Covid-19 patients. As the person collecting nasopharyngeal swabs from those who show symptoms of SARS-COV-2, Suryavanshi is literally at the forefront of the fight against Covid-19, as risky as anything to do with this pandemic can get.

Over three shifts of eight hours each, lab technicians like Suryavanshi collect thousands of samples each day. The swab collection and tests are repeated for vulnerable patients. Even as he says that patients keep coughing and sneezing while samples are being collected, and despite the risk involved, Suryavanshi feels it is a God-given opportunity to fight for a cause.

“One’s own brother, sister or even mother stays away if one contracts coronavirus. And here, we go and talk to these patients, engage them in a conversation to ease them up, and collect their samples. It is not just us, everyone in Gandhi Hospital from each sweeper to doctor is doing a great job despite a staff crunch,” he says.

H Santosh Suryavanshi

Suryavanshi is relentless, even though his is not a permanent job and he gets paid just Rs 8,000 a month. That’s mostly because the pathologist loves his job, though it is a challenging one as he himself calls it. “Let it be any new disease, we are not scared. We are in the medical field and we are ready for any challenge. If we were scared we would have run away by now at the sight of a new disease,” he says, a microbiology graduate. “This is our profession as well as passion. We are here to fight the disease and guide the public.”

A resident of Jiyaguda, a locality in the Old City of Hyderabad that has been one of the biggest Covid-19 clusters with a large number of cases, Suryavanshi says there are many raised eyebrows and murmurs behind his back, questioning the nature of his hospital job. He says while friends taunt him for “working in the COVID hospital”, the house owner and neighbours say they are scared of his family.

“I just ask them what is the fear all about when we are putting our lives at risk to safeguard those who could be infected with the virus. If tomorrow your son, sister, or someone in the family takes ill, it would be someone like me who will collect the swab sample and test it,” Suryavanshi continues, adding how without the test reports no doctor will be able to assess someone’s medical condition. This is what makes lab technicians the backbone of the medical response to Covid-19, he adds.

But behind the bravado, he is aware of the risks. “Ghar se nikalte so wakt maut bole to har ek ko toh dar rahti sahab… jaan hatheli par rakh kar ham kaam kar rahe hain. Yein public kabhi bhi road ke upar phirri. Sab ko dabao aap. Khulla phirri… hamare janom ko pareshani hain (While stepping out of home, who is not scared of death? We are doing the job risking our lives and the public continues to roam around irresponsibly. This has to stop.)”

Suryavanshi says wearing the N95 mask and PPE kits through the day results in body pain daily but one has to be mentally prepared for it.

After an eight-hour shift collecting samples from inside the uncomfortable PPEs, Suryavanshi says he feels like crying every day after returning home. “The whole body aches through the night. Because of wearing the N95 mask and PPE all the time, oxygen levels drop in the body and this results in pain of the stomach chest and throat. It can get quite frustrating at times,” he says, quickly adding that one has to keep active and stay mentally strong to tackle the prevailing situation. “Only then can we win.”

Suryavanshi, who lost his mother recently, lives with his father who is a bronchitis patient. “I have been tested thrice for the virus and reported negative,” he says, underlining how he fears for the safety of his father.

But his biggest fear is still his job. As a bachelor drawing a meagre salary of Rs 8000, Suryavanshi wonders why he should drag another person into his life when the job itself is not permanent. “It will not become permanent. I have lost all hope.”

Also in this series: Keeping Nizamuddin Basti safe with masks that spread light on our heritage